Crabbing On Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

Capt. Gary Le Marchant, who has fished for crabs for 30 years, holds up freshly caught dungeness crabs during tourist trip to let visitors try catching crabs. Photo by Yvette Cardozo

“America’s Toughest Jobs,” this isn’t. A couple hours catching crabs off British Columbia’s Salt Spring Island is a kick, a pinch, a slosh. And quite tasty.

Brought to you by the Hastings House, the crab catch is a few hours of wet, slimy fun.

“These traps have been down 10 days … plenty of time to attract critters,” local fisherman Gary Le Marchant said to me as his boat headed 10 minutes out of Ganges Harbour.

“There, snag the rope.”

It brought memories of that reality show where average Joes were sliding around an icy deck off Alaska, risking their lives. Here, instead, we easily grabbed the rope with a hook and helped Gary winch up the four-foot (1.2 m), round trap.

Then the fun: dressed in rubber apron and gloves, I fumbled around the trap for a crab, which, of course, objected. Yes, they pinch. Hard.

Females (wider marks on stomach) go back. Little guys (less than 6.5 inches – 16.5 cm) go back. For us, it turned out to be 28 crabs, 10 keepers.

Beautiful Wilderness Scenery Overhead

Above, an eagle wheeled against a perfect blue sky. Cedars and firs lined the hills and behind the harbor, I could see the quaint, brightly painted shops of Salt Spring Island’s main town. Back at the dock, Gary spared me the really icky part — killing the things. He smashed each against the edge of a bucket, like cracking an egg, scooped out the gills and that green stuff and declared them ready for the kitchen.

Crabs sell commercially for $3 a pound. Local fishermen sell them to tourists for $10 a pound but back in the city (Vancouver) we’ve seen it at twice that. Food for thought …

In Your Bucket Because…

  • You like the idea of catching your food
  • You like quiet, rural places
  • You also like elegant, historic inns
  • Best for folks looking for something a bit off the beaten path but still want comfort

“Catch ’em, cook ’em, eat ’em,” Gary said with a hungry grin.

It’s One Quirky Little Island

Barn and greenhouse at the Hastings House, an inn patterned after an 11th Century Sussex style manor from England. It is the fanciest hotel on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, Canada with a focus on fine dining and island activities. Photo by Yvette Cardozo

Before we returned to the Hastings House, I got a chance to see more of the island and learn about it’s, um, little quirks. You couldn’t invent Salt Spring Island in a novel. Killer scenery, weird history, ghosts.

Over the years, artists, writers, bakers, slackers, wanderers … they all somehow found their way to this 16 mile (25 km) long island off Vancouver Island. Originally, it was the Coast Native peoples who came here. Then disillusioned gold miners. Then nine freed black slaves who arrived here from California in 1857, followed by more blacks and Hawaiians and Japanese. And hippies in the ’70s.

Hey, folks here even printed their own money, Salt Spring Dollars, a few years ago. You get the idea, this place is funky. As for the hotel, it is equally quirky … and possibly haunted. There’s a clay pot buried beneath the fireplace to ward off witches but ghosts apparently don’t count. One server swears he’s seen a translucent woman in the prerequisite white gown that unsettled female souls always seem to wear. Also, he swears, pictures move. And things go thud in the night.

Crab cake served after “crab catch” trip where visitors go out with local fisherman to see crab fishing and try their hands at it. Photo by Yvette Cardozo

Later that afternoon, I got the second half of my package … a cooking demo by Chef Marcel Kauer, who tossed chives, peppers, Japanese bread crumbs, a bit of dry mustard, mayo and egg white into a bowl with the crab and had a fine time squishing the mess through his fingers.

He made little cakes, fried them on one side, then popped them into the oven for a few minutes to finish. They were served served with mayo swirled with wasabi, along with the rest of a four course dinner that night.

Oh yes, yum.

Practicalities

  • The crab catch package runs May through September for $700 CAD per person, double and includes two nights at the historic, 11th Century-Sussex-style manor house, breakfast, the cooking demo and four course chef’s dinner of crab specialties.
  • The crab catching is run using the hotel’s own 24-foot (7.3 m) fishing boat and now manned by the General Manager, Kelly McAree and Chef Marcel Kauer.
  • Hastings House hotel is open year round and operates as a bed and breakfast in winter.

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